Kelly Rook is the Operations Coordinator of Street GRACE, a non-denominational an alliance of churches, COMMUNITY PARTNERS, AND VOLUNTEERS dedicated to the eradication of the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Atlanta. As such, she provides logistical support for advocacy and awareness events along with administrative support to colleagues, board members, and donors.
Prior to working with Street GRACE, Kelly worked at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Patient Services. She also has years of experience working in Health Education at local Atlanta hospitals. Kelly did her graduate research work with World Relief in Mozambique and studied how church-based networks assisted people living with HIV/AIDS and orphans and vulnerable children.
Kelly holds a Master of Public Health in Global Health from Emory University and a Bachelors of Arts from Furman University in Health and Exercise Science and Spanish. She enjoys traveling and spending time with family and friends.
Plywood People: What is Street GRACE doing in Atlanta to address the issues of human trafficking?
Kelly Rook: Street GRACE is a non-denominational alliance of churches, community partners, and volunteers dedicated to supporting, enlarging, and allying with those individuals and organizations working toward eliminating the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). Street GRACE mobilizes the resources within the community — financial, human and material — toward those organizations and individuals who have demonstrated effectiveness in battling CSEC in the areas of advocacy, aftercare and mentoring.
Our ultimate goal is the elimination of this problem in the city of Atlanta and duplication of these efforts in other cities across the United States.
Plywood People: To some it comes as a huge surprise that sex trafficking is actually a problem in our country. Would you share some statistics of how this issue is affecting our children?
- The average age of child sexual exploitation appears to be 14, but girls as young as 10 and 11 have been exploited. Source: Hidden in Plain View, 2005 Mayor’s Report.
- Approximately 500 adolescent girls are commercially sexually exploited every month in the state of Georgia. Source: Georgia Governor’s Office for Children and Families, February 2010
- An estimated 7,200 men knowingly or unknowingly pay for sex with adolescent females in Georgia each month. Source: The Shapiro Group, Inc. in conjunction with The Women’s Funding Network and A Future. Not A Past., 2010.
Plywood People: Could you share a story with us that has especially impacted you in the work you’re doing?
Kelly: One of the first large events I was a part of was Lobby Day this past February. Over 400 college students, church members, community partners, and other interested individuals rallied together at the Georgia State Capitol to provide a unified voice against CSEC in Atlanta. For many people, it was their first time at the Capitol and the first time they had spoken with their legislators. It was inspiring as people figured out what district they were in, who their representatives were, how to submit their requests, and finally getting to speak to their legislators. Outside the House and Senate chambers, the hallways were lined with citizens expressing their concerns to their legislators and speaking with one unified voice about the importance of protecting Georgia’s children. It was an exciting day and I think everyone walked away feeling empowered to make a difference!
Plywood People: Could you talk a little about the short film Street GRACE is helping to create and what you’re hoping to accomplish through the release of the film?
Kelly: Approximately 500 adolescent girls are commercially sexually exploited every month in Georgia and those who abuse them often refer to these children as “candy.” Street GRACE, in partnership with Whitestone Motion Pictures and 12Stone Church, is part of a project that gives a voice to the voiceless. The Candy Shop is a DEPRESSION ERA fairy tale which speaks to the social evil of child sexual exploitation through a film that can be viewed by children and adults alike. This 30-minute film tells the story of a girl who is changed forever by evil, a man who’s not really a man, and a boy who becomes a man as he uncovers and fights a terrible wrong. Save the date of November 8 (7-9pm) at the Fox Theatre for a public screening of The Candy Shop.
Despite the sickening reality of this evil, there is hope: raising awareness of CSEC may decrease demand based on a recent study conducted by The Shapiro Group in conjunction with The Women’s Funding Network and A Future. Not A Past. This film will be an opportunity to raise awareness and mobilize individuals to get involved.
Plywood People: It feels like such an overwhelming task given the numbers. What is something we can do to engage in this issue?
Kelly: Everyone can get involved in this issue and make a difference whether it is through hosting an awareness party, donating to the cause, running a race, talking to your state legislators or volunteering your time. Street GRACE has over 45 community partners around metro-Atlanta who serve children vulnerable to this issue. Volunteer opportunities include everything from landscaping to mentoring. Visit www.connectstreetgrace.org to sign-up and learn more!